Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"To Think I Was Once A Republican" department

Josh Marshall on the new line of attack the McCain camp is flailing with:

I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.) Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.

But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity. Ron Fournier picked the ball up early in his reporting for the AP. And John King was pushing it over the weekend on CNN. Is it arrogant or above Obama's station for him to meet with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? If I'm not mistaken he is a sitting United States senator and also the presidential candidate of the Democratic party. Such meetings are actually the norm.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From My Favorite Cassandra, Jim Kunstler

His reflections on a recent trip up the valley of then Hudson River in Upstate New York:

Eventually, after running through the disintegrating towns of Mechanicville (once a place of earnest labor, just like it sounds, now a morass of sinking car dealerships and Quik-stops), and Stillwater (smaller version of the same), the road turned completely rural and few other cars ventured up there. The decisive Revolutionary battle of Saratoga was fought near there on the bluffs and hills overlooking the Hudson in 1777. You wonder what the heroes of that battle would think of what we have become. What would they make of the word "consumer" that we use to describe our relation to the world? What would they think of excellent river bottom-land that is now barely used for farming -- or, where it is still farmed (dairying if anything), of farmers who will not even put in a kitchen garden for themselves because it might detract from their hours of TV viewing?

The sclerosis of American life is shocking. If you go further north up the Hudson River, to Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, you'll see a nation that seems ready to crawl off and die. There, it appears too far gone to even put up a proxy fight on a video screen. Frankly, I don't want that version of America to survive -- the America of chain stores, and muscle cars, and grown men obsessed with video games, drugs, and pornography, and women decorated like cannibals, and the vast, crushing purposelessness of it all. I have no doubt we're heading into a convulsion that will wring much of this junk and dross into the backwaters of history. We're capable of being something better than this, of putting our time on earth to better use, including a more respectful treatment of the land we inhabit. This year and the next will be the years of letting go, and out of that we'll commence a re-becoming.

Ever More Obtuse...

...this is appalling.

From Matt Yglesias

I didn't see this AFP story last week:

The Iraqi officer leading a U.S.-financed anti-jihadist group is in no mood for small talk -- either the military gives him more money or he will pack his bags and rejoin the ranks of al-Qaeda.

"I'll go back to al-Qaeda if you stop backing the Sahwa (Awakening) groups," Col. Satar tells U.S. Lt. Matthew McKernon, as he tries to secure more funding for his men to help battle the anti-U.S. insurgents.

This, I think, does more than a little to underscore the limits of the "bribe our former enemies to be our friends" approach to Iraq. Of course, though the limits are real so are the possibilities. If keeping these guys on the payroll indefinitely were really crucial to American national security, I'm pretty sure we could find a way to work things out for quite a while. But it really isn't crucial to American national security. Having insurgents not shooting at US troops is much preferable to the previous situation, but insofar as the safety of our soldiers is the primary concern then getting the soldiers out of Iraq is a much more reasonable long-term strategy.

The "cash for allies" approach makes sense as a way to make a military presence more sustainable in a place where the presence is strategically important. But for some time now, the main strategic purpose of our presence in Iraq seems to be simply to sustain our presence in Iraq. That's not a good enough reason.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Speaking of Guns and Hunting...

Morning's Minion has a post up at Vox Nova where he discusses handguns and what to do about them: thoughts naturally fell on the just war criteria. The key in this context is the notion that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. The free availability of handguns for “self defense” is– in the present context– a “disproportionate” response to any perceived threat, broadly defined, in the sense that it contributes to far greater evils in society than the good of protecting one’s family. In other words, we can adapt the proportionality criterion to say something like: “the unrestricted private possession of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.

And let’s talk for a minute about those greater evils. As I’ve pointed out again and again, the level of gun-related homicide and suicide rates in the United States is off the charts by comparisons of countries with similar levels of economic development. And yet, as Harvard’s David Hemenway points out, the United States is not exceptionally violent among high-income industrialized countries. What makes it different is the level of “lethal violence”. So while guns may not turn people into criminals, they make crimes lethal. And the international evidence shows that murder and suicide rates are positively related to levels of gun ownership, and that the detrimental effect of guns is greater in the presence of underlying social and economic tensions.

I have mixed feelings about this. I share his concerns about rampant murder in the US (something with which I have some direct, personal experience, by the way.)

However, I also find a handgun is handy in the Fall if I need to humanely finish off a deer in the woods after wounding it with a poorly-placed rifle shot. If the deer is on rocky ground, a rifle bullet may ricochet, and a shotgun will ruin an awful lot of meat (a Wanton Waste ticket can run into the many hundreds of dollars.)

So, a handgun is a handy tool for hunting, but their free availability contributes to the high murder rate in the US. What to do?

My honest answer is, I don’t know. I probably come down on the side of regulation and permitting of handguns, rather than an outright ban.

I was away for the weekend...

...doing prep for a hunting trip I'm taking this Fall - which reminds me: any of my Catholic readers know the patron(ess) of the hunt?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, This Is Good...

Republicans are fleeing the, um, Republican National Convention with both feet. Seems like no Republican Senators in close races want to be seen in Minneapolis. The Republicans would probably prefer that GW Bush were, I don't know, out in the Rockies someplace, preferably lost, during their powwow. I almost feel bad for those boys.


Minimum Wage a Bad Idea??

My fellow Catholics continue to disappoint me with their regressive economics:

Yesterday the federal minimum wage was raised from $5.85 an hour to $6.55 an hour. Perhaps you didn’t notice. Minimum wage laws are a strange sort of thing. They’re quite popular, yet the arguments used to support them are often of the sort that, in other contexts, hardly anyone would find persuasive.

Suppose I were to argue as follows: Homeless is an injustice and a tragedy, and no one should have to beg on the streets for food or money, or to sleep on the streets. Therefore, we should make begging and vagrancy illegal.

Presumably few people would find such an argument convincing. They would recognize that, bad as it is to have to beg for money in order to be able to eat, simply taking away your ability to beg while doing nothing about the circumstances that led you to beg in the first place isn’t going to make you any better off.

Or suppose that, instead of a ban on begging, I propose a law whereby anyone who wants to give money to a homeless person has to give at least $10. That way the amount of money a homeless person will be able to collect from begging will increase, and he or she will soon have enough money to get off the streets. Again, I doubt that many people would find such an argument convincing. They would immediately see that while some people might give more money to the homeless under the new law most people, if forced to choose between giving at least $10 and giving nothing, would choose to give nothing. Nor, I might add, would I be able to win many people over to my proposals by talking about how rotten it is to be homeless. The worse homelessness is, the worse my ideas are.

Yet when it comes to so-called minimum wage laws, i.e. laws making it illegal to hire someone for less than a set amount, many people do fall for precisely these sorts of arguments. It is assumed that if the minimum wage is set at $10 an hour, everyone who would have made less than this absent the law will now make $10 an hour. What people seem to forget, however, is that the minimum wage is always zero. There is no law that says an employer must hire anyone or continue to employ them. If a worker is worth $7 an hour to an employer, and the law says he must pay him $10 or nothing, then the worker will be paid nothing. The law has not improved his situation. It has only made it worse.

Leaving everything up to the market results in wages falling to “what the market will bear.” If that level is below a living wage, should we as a society address that?

If it could reasonably be demonstrated that a minimum wage improves the lives workers, what would be a reasonable substitute (not “in principle” but in actual, concrete fact - some other means besides a legal minimum wage that will actually, you know, work?)

Take away the minimum wage, and McDonald’s would pay its labor 2 bucks an hour. Maybe less if they could get away with it. We’d be back to “I sold my soul to the company store.” (Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickeled and Dimed” gives a good look at a world where companies have all the power.)

One role of the government, of the law, ought to be to protect the weak. This is Godly and Catholic.

If we lived in a medieval world of craft guilds and peasant farmers, all this libertarian garbage might make some sense. In an industrialized world where large corporations wield immense power, I just can’t see the sense in it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Darwin Catholic Answers my Challenge...

...that I put out in a previous post asking for an explanation of why conservative Catholics oppose universal health care. I'll respond to his response in the next day or so.

[UPDATE: Zack pointed out in the comments that he responded as well.]

Obama's Appeal

A commenter named "phoenix a stepinac" gets to the core of why Obama's so appealing to me and many others:

Beyond his intelligence, what appeals to me about Obama is his apparent zeal for aggressive statesmanship. While McCain claims to hold the mantle of foriegn policy, he always appears dismissive when asked about diplomatic, multilateral foreign policy issues, and seems unwilling to think extemporaneously about evolving events. This lends him an air of obstinance; it feels as if he has no desire to truly know more about the parties in a conflict, no desire to triangulate a solution. He has all too willingly embraced the anti-intellectualism of the Bush White House, the distrust of nuance and conflicting opinion that has us mired in a disgusting war.

I find a lot of things alarming about Obama's recent foreign policy statements. For one thing, his proposal for dealing with Afghanistan seems a bit short sighted and politically expedient. Regardless of this, he appears possessed of a certain drive, an embrace of thoroughly caucused factuality, and a willingness to shift his views with the times without the egomaniac's obsession with constant justification and calibration.

I feel that this goes a good deal of the way in explaining why his popularity has soared all over the world. Most people, world leaders and myself included, have not deluded themselves into believing Obama will work entirely in favor of their specific interests all of the time. Obama has proven, however, that he will elevate the position of the Presidency back to that of a world statesman, and weigh all sides of his decisions with the gravity and seriousness they deserve.

I could not have put it better myself (and I share Phoenix's apprehensiveness at some of Obama's recent rhetoric concerning Afghanistan.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Morning's Minion on the Iraq Situation

As of right now, Obama pretty much has this thing in the bag.

The reaction to Nouri al-Maliki’s endorsement of Obama’s Iraq withdrawal timetable is interesting. First, we had an Iraqi government spokesman claim that Maliki was misquoted, without offering any details, and with the translation showing quite clearly that Maliki said what he said, as an audiotape of the interview actually exists. Even more dubiously, the qualifying statement was issued by the occupying army! But, after recent clarification, there is now no doubt that the Iraqi government favors a withdrawal timetable similar to Obama’s proposal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

McCain Left Without an Issue

More on Al-Maliki's agreement with Obama's timetable, this time from Marc Ambinder:

This could be one of those unexpected events that forever changes the way the world perceives an issue. Iraq's Prime Minister agrees with Obama, and there's no wiggle room or fudge factor. This puts John McCain in an extremely precarious spot: what's left to argue? to argue against Maliki would be to predicate that Iraqi sovereignty at this point means nothing. Obviously, our national interests aren't equivalent to Iraq's, but... Malik isn't listening to the generals on the ground...but the "hasn't been to Iraq" line doesn't work here.

So how will the McCain campaign respond?

(Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, "We're fucked."

Villagers Manifesting Idiocy Yet Again

Jamison Foser over at Media Matters, on why discussing "likability" in our presidential candidates is moronic:

Yet again, the political media is obsessed with the question of whether the Democratic presidential nominee is "likable" and whether he can "connect" with "regular people." We go through this every four years. It's a remarkably bad way for journalists to spend their -- and our -- time, but old habits die hard, especially when the alternative is doing some actual reporting.

Voting for president based on who seems the most likable -- or, in the media's favorite shorthand, based on who you would rather have a beer with -- is a spectacularly bad idea, what with the almost total lack of similarity between talking about the Knicks over a bottle of Bud and running the world's most powerful nation. It requires very little judgment or analytical skills to determine that the Knicks stink. Deciding whether to send Americans off to die in a foreign land is (or should be) a little different.

[H/T Digby]

Lyrics from Ray LaMontagne

So now we see how it is
This fist begets the spear
Weapons of war
Symptoms of madness
Don't let your eyes refuse to see
Don't let your ears refuse to hear
Or you ain't never going to shake this sense of sadness

Nuri al-Maliki Endorses Obama Plan to End US Involvement In Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months.

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."
Asked if he supported Obama's ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.

"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Henry at Vox Nova...

...has a fascinating series up on Man At The Crossroads. Except from today's installment:

A second reason many people use to abandon God is because of the evil done in God’s name. We should all agree with them that such a corruption of religion needs purification. The sad fact, however, is that such corruption often goes unnoticed and is too ingrained to be rooted out easily. But even when this is the case, people should not give up faith in God. It’s ultimately an ad hominem. Truth is truth, whether the followers of truth do evil or not. But doubters, following this line of thought, should see it for what it is: another reason to question humanity, not God.[6] Indeed, it is ironically saying that, because people have done evil, I can’t believe in God, so I will believe in myself (despite the fact that I am also human).

Good Question

Sully asks a good question.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Calling All Conservative Catholics

What alternative do you propose to universal health care, on the European model? Whatever the problems there, everyone is guaranteed basic care, no one there is bankrupted by medical bills, and everyone seems (by and large) happy with it.

How, as a Catholic, can you oppose that?

Just...explain to me why it would be so horrifying to just have universal health care in the United States. Yes it would cost money, and yes, taxes would go up - but so what? Isn't working people not being bankrupted by hospital bills ever again worth a few more percent at tax time? Isn't a society where everyone can go to a doctor when he's sick better than a society where he delays going because then he won't eat or won't be able to buy gas, or can't pay his car payment or whatever?

Give me a good, solid reason to oppose it - not a picking-around-the-edges, "particular statistic 'x' suffers in comparison to America..." reason, but simply-stated summary of why, in principle, it would be so horrible.

The reply, "we ought to care for each other in the community" sounds good - heck, I even agree with it. But the price of modern health care is too much for that kind of community-provided care. I have no idea what an MRI machine costs, but I can't imagine my local parish can fork over than kind of cash.

As Catholics, we can either, 1. Wring our hands and dream piously of New Jerusalem, or 2. Come up with a plan B.

I'll go first: "Millions of people having either no health insurance or junk insurance in a country as affluent as the US is a scandal. Universal health care, modeled on Western European systems, is practically achievable and would be good because it would guarantee basic health care to every citizen."

Bloody Day in Afghanistan

9 US troopers are dead (so far) and 15 wounded in an attack on an outpost:


Nine U.S. troops were killed Sunday in an attack on a base in a remote province of eastern Afghanistan, a Western official said.


NATO confirmed that nine of its International Security Assistance Force troops were killed, but it didn't release the troops' nationalities. Fifteen other ISAF troops and four Afghan troops were wounded, NATO said.

"The fighting began in early morning hours and continued into the day as insurgents were repulsed from an Afghan National Army and ISAF combat outpost," said a NATO statement.

Prayers and thoughts for the dead, the wounded, their families and the Afghan people.

Sully asks a...

Good Question.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Tyranny" doesn't mean what you think it means

Sometimes I think it will take a revolution to get Americans to see that it's ok for us to help each other; it's even OK to help each other using the government as an intermediary.

Way too many of us ("us" meaning Americans in general) have absorbed the right-wing propaganda that government help is "tyrannical" and involves "bloated, wasteful and inefficient" government programs whose "purpose is to employ bureaucrats" so that "liberals can feel good about themselves."

Democrats winning in November is step one: step two is destroying the legitimacy of the above wingnut talking points, by showing that you can have government programs of limited scope, run efficiently, whose purpose is to help people.

Friday, July 04, 2008

from Ambrose Bierce

The Past n.: That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we have a slight and regrettable acquaintance. A moving line called the Present parts it from an imaginary period known as the Future. These two grand divisions of Eternity, of which the one is continually effacing the other, are entirely unlike. The one is dark with sorrow and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy. The Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of song. In the one crouches Memory, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mumbling penitential prayer; in the sunshine of the other Hope flies with a free wing, beckoning to temples of success and bowers of ease. Yet the Past is the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of to-morrow. They are one -- the knowledge and the dream.

"Eventually" Has Arrived

We've heard this stuff for years. Cheap Oil will "eventually" run out. Our deficits will "eventually" need to be dealt with. Foreigners will "eventually" get tired of buying our debt. Global warming will "eventually" cause real problems...

The US has been stumbling blindly into an absolutely epic train wreck the last few years. Hear that *thwack* sound just lately? That's the brown matter finally hitting the in-room air-mover. Gasoline is now over 4 dollars a gallon (in some places, well over). "Eventually" is now here. There are a number of urgent, and very expensive, things that are needed right away if the United States is to survive as a first-tier country in the world. A few of the more urgent items on the agenda:

1. We urgently need passenger rail service to be massively expanded. In an ideal world with non-cowardly Democrats in congress, a big Rail bill would pass right now, over Bush's veto - It would be better not to wait until Obama takes office. The ever-upward trend in fuel prices means air travel is about to become both much rarer and far more expensive; air travel as a mass consumer activity is in deep, deep trouble. This means that we will need electric high-speed rail between major Metro centers, and pronto, or pretty soon no one except for the very rich going to be able to get around the country in anything resembling an efficient way.

2. Suburbs, especially more-distant suburbs, are probably going to be effectively abandoned on a large scale shortly (30-mile commutes with $10+ per gallon gas? $12 per gallon? If you make six figures, maybe: If you're the vast, vast majority of us that don't make six figures - Um, no. And all those "creatively" financed McMansions currently being repo'ed and sold at a loss will add to and accelerate this process) All those ex-suburban folks are going to need an affordable place to live that's closer to where they work; and they will need massively expanded public transit (street cars and light rail) to take them to work. Many smaller cities will be too broke (in part due to the cratering housing market) to finance even a substantial fraction of this: they are going to need Federal help. Taxes need to go up. Substantially. Especially the top marginal rates.

3. Interstate trucking is currently reeling, and its precarious situation going to get much, much worse. Interstate trucking relies on now-unobtainable cheap diesel fuel to work as it has up until now. It is hard to overstate the extent to which contemporary commerce depends on trucks to deliver supplies - everything from food delivery to your local supermarket, to the loads of cheap lead-laced crap imported from China and delivered to Walmart from the ports of entry comes on trucks: we need to find alternatives. Moving food and other goods shorter distances (i.e., using local sources rather than China and South America) is going to become mandatory when trucking collapses.

This diary just scratches the surface, but I'm not despairing. Americans have, in the past, come together to face problems at least as daunting as the ones we're facing now. That said, our survival will depend on the bullshit ceasing, and people facing the situation squarely and realistically.

Finally, a good general link, for further reading on peak oil:

The Oil Drum